Warrington Borough Council has been strongly censured by the Local Government Ombudsman for destroying records that formed part of the statutory planning register, so that it had no records of plans and applications approved before 1996.
The watchdog voiced “grave concern” over this case and said that it represented “a significant and very serious failure of corporate governance”.
The Ombudsman’s investigation found that a senior planning officer who has since left the council had arranged to destroy records forming part of the statutory planning register. As a result the council has no record of the plans and applications approved in its area before 1996. Only the decision notices have been retained but, without the plans and applications, these do not record what has been approved.
The watchdog said: “It was an extraordinary and inexcusable act of maladministration for the council to destroy records that it had a statutory duty to hold and make available for public inspection.”
The discovery followed a complaint to the Ombudsman from two householders in a small cul-de-sac, who complained that the council failed to deal properly with planning applications and breach of planning control by someone developing a house on land behind their homes. They said the peace and security they once enjoyed has been lost, and that they have lost all confidence in the integrity and competence of the council.
The Ombudsman’s investigation discovered a number of failures in the way the Council handled the issues of vehicular access to the site, the renewal of planning permission, the enforceability of planning conditions attached to the planning permission, and the taking of enforcement action.
In addition to the maladministration of destroying statutory records, the Ombudsman found the council had acted with maladministration by having no record of the plans it approved in 1997; approving an application to renew the planning permission in 2002 when the plans submitted were incompatible with conditions imposed in 1997 and failing to consider and apply Government guidance and perpetuating a condition that was unenforceable. There was a further litany of errors, blunders and incorrect procedures and behaviour.
On receiving a draft of the Ombudsman’s report the council agreed to serve a planning contravention notice on the developer about the access from the cul-de-sac and to submit a comprehensive report to the planning control committee about enforcement.
The LGO recommended that the council should serve the notice before the end of July 2011, apologise to the residents and pay them each £5,000 in recognition of the negative impact of the development on their amenity and the time and trouble involved in pursuing their complaint.
A spokesperson for Warrington Borough Council, said: "The council does not dispute the findings of the ombudsman’s investigation. We are in the process of deciding what action should be taken in order to improve matters and cannot comment further at this time."
6 May 2011